Sponging dolphins: cute & clever

Did you know that dolphins use tools, and look adorable while doing so?

Bottlenose dolphins in Australia's Shark Bay like to snack on seafloor-dwelling fish (like sandperch), a food choice that presents two problems. First, these fish lack swimbladders and therefore cannot be echolocated effectively; second, the substrate they inhabit is scattered with sharp rocks and shells, which obscure the fish and conspire to injure a dolphin's nose. One group of dolphins came up with a clever way to enjoy their benthic prey: they harvest sponges and wear them on their faces. The sponge protects the dolphin's rostrum while it digs around in the seafloor, until it runs into a fish and scares it out of the ground to be eaten. After about an hour, when the sponges become too worn down to serve as a shield, the dolphins replace them with fresh ones. Furthermore, the dolphins pass the knowledge of sponging on from generation to generation. Read more details in this scientific paper.

dolphin-sponging

Patterson EM, Mann J (2011) The Ecological Conditions That Favor Tool Use and Innovation in Wild Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops sp.). PLoS ONE 6(7): e22243. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0022243

Cortney

About Cortney

Geology lover. Proud owner of a 2014 Honda CRF250L. Grew up on NES, N64, & Gameboy. Collects maneki neko (lucky cats). Married to a gearhead. Email cortney@luckysci.com. Wishlist.

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